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Bridgitte's Olympic Diary - Rio 2016

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

“Somebody has to win, somebody has to lose and somebody has to fill all the places in between. It’s just the expectations from ourselves and others that leaves us satisfied or dissatisfied with the results.”

Having returned to South Africa from the Olympics, I have tried hard to not only think of the negatives but also the positives from my entire career.

At this level of professional competition, it’s the athlete who has the best race on the day not the week before or the week after that counts. I wished that my stars would have aligned for the Rio Olympics like they did in London four years ago, but perhaps there is a reason why I got the results I did.

I most definitely know that my body was strong enough to compete and attain positive results at the Rio Games. However, upon reflection, perhaps I had a few too many things go wrong during the last stages that didn’t help keep me focused.

I suffered a neck spasm the day before my 500m races and had to see the chiropractor and physiotherapist twice in one day before my event. And, on the morning of my final, my bum pad was missing having fallen out of my boat. It caused a mad amount of stress trying to make another just before.

I was unable to effectively execute my hours of training in my 500m races, and I still can’t pinpoint why. I have enjoyed a good success rate when it’s come to competing under pressure, but this time I feel as though I failed.

The Olympic Village was very noisy and my sleep patterns were awful during my stay. Sleep deprivation was difficult to deal with, but the positive energy which came from my roommate Caster Semenya helped.

She was beaming with confidence every time I saw her, and I’m very proud of what she achieved. I’m very happy for the girls who won medals, as I know the feeling. It’s absolutely amazing to get a chance to show what you have attained on the world stage and make everyone proud.

I wasn’t able to reach the podium in Rio, but I have been blown away by the amazing support from South Africans who watched me. I would like to thank many in South Africa for their excitement.

They found a way to watch my races and shared the closing ceremony experience with me. And yesterday, I received a wonderful welcome back message and a rose pot plant from my neighbour and her young daughter after they saw that my car was once again parked in the driveway after I’d been out of the country for a number of weeks.

So what lies ahead for me post-Rio 2016? I feel as though I have unfinished business, so my immediate response to training for Tokyo 2020 is a definite ‘Yes’.

I’ve been motivated again by the Olympics and the emotions it evokes. Everything is amplified and it was a humbling experience to see the men from my sporting discipline cry on the podium.

From first-hand experience, those tears express the gratitude of all the hours of training having paid off, and there is an ultimate sense of joy and relief in knowing that it all came together on the day.

I would love to try a new project in a K2, however, my heart is still in my K1 500m event. I might actually just need a break for a year in order to unlock a fresh challenge inside of me.

I may have the opportunity to represent my country in the paddling marathon next month. If not, the international season is over for another year, as I’ll only have small local races to compete in.

I can only take it one day at a time and try to set new goals. I will also do some soul searching, but will try not to overthink everything that didn’t go as I had hoped in Rio."


Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The city of Rio boasts a number of popular tourist destinations, and before I left the Olympic Games to return home, I decided to take in some sights and sounds of the Brazilian capital.

I began at the world-famous staircase, Escadaria Selaron. The staircase is located in a busy area and the steps travel up a hill all the way to the top, with so many beautiful tiles on each and every step. It’s a popular place for tourists to visit, so I ensured that I held onto my bag.

Not too far away is the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. It boasts the most beautiful views overlooking the entire city as well as the Lagoa race course where I competed. I decided that it was a must-see before departing Rio. It wasn’t a sunny day but it was clear, so I took as many pictures as possible from all angles. Owing to the fact that it’s a busy venue packed with people, the trip up and down by cable car was not such a quick ride. My sightseeing came to an abrupt end when I realised that I was running out of daylight hours and needed to get back to the Athletes’ Village to catch the scheduled buses for the closing ceremony.

The travel took much longer than I initially anticipated. It proved a theme throughout the Games. I did plenty of travelling in buses in order to get to all the competition venues, which were mostly one hour away. I eventually arrived at the Village, almost one hour later than I was originally scheduled to leave for the ceremony. Fortunately, however, there were still many buses collecting athletes from others countries, so I casually hopped into one of the buses and arrived with enough time to spare. I made conversation with a few of my fellow Olympians and discovered that our group would be the first to walk into the closing parade.

It was so exciting and the atmosphere was amazing. The typical carnival style of Rio de Janeiro came to the fore, with a display of colours, fireworks and bubbly music in evidence.

I soaked up the feeling in the Maracana Stadium and then realised that the rest of Team South Africa had yet to walk in the closing ceremony. The organisers must have grouped us in different places to lead in. The rain began to fall, but the proceedings carried on. It was great to witness the handing over of the Olympic flag from Rio to Tokyo. The Japanese prime minister, dressed as Super Mario, popped out of a pipe holding a big red glowing ball.

And just like that, I had to catch a bus back to the Village and pack my luggage ahead of my return to South Africa. I had to operate without any sleep because I had to catch the early flight to Sao Paulo. I then had to wait for approximately 10 hours in the airport to make my connecting flight. The Rio Olympics proved a rollercoaster games for me. As I boarded the plane, I left Brazil with mixed emotions, but was happy to have celebrated with everyone.


Sunday, 21 August 2016

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than the fear” – Ambrose Redmoon

As I reflect upon my experiences at the Rio Olympics, and the disappointment of not medalling like I did four years ago in London, I have come to the realisation that we cry when we win and we cry when we lose. It’s just the feelings inside that are so different.

I am trying to remind myself that I still possess an Olympic bronze medal, which no one can take away from me, despite failing to reach the podium in Rio. I’m left feeling extremely grateful because I have competed in three Olympic Games and some athletes are still attempting to qualify for their first showpiece. I have to put my pain of failing to medal this time around into perspective.

I would truly like to thank everyone for the amazing support and, as my professional paddling career has progressed, I have learnt the value of surrounding myself with positive people who will support me when it rains and not just when it shines. I also prescribe to the notion that if you judge people in life, then you have no time to love them.

I found the racing challenging in Rio, but I was confident that I would get it right when it mattered most. However, it just didn’t come together in the end. I ultimately missed out on contesting the Kayak single 500m A-final. However, the pride I felt racing one more time on the beautiful Lagoa Lake in the B-final against the best athletes in the world was immense.

K1 is a lonely path to traverse at times and moving forward, I’m considering changing tack and teaming up with a K2 paddler. If I can, for instance, jump into a boat with a junior lady from South Africa and we dovetail effectively, perhaps we can aim for an A-final in a year or two from now.

The reason why I believe that people often give up so easily is because they tend to look at how far they still have to go on the journey, instead of how far they have come. I take away real positives from reaching the Kayak single 200m B-final. It was the first time that I competed in this event at Olympic level because I never raced it at London 2012.

In terms of Team South Africa’s showing, it’s absolutely amazing how many medals my fellow countrymen attained for our rainbow nation in Brazil. My compatriots delivered some really great performances, which ranked within the top eight in the world and secured a record-equalling 10 medals.

From the Blitzbokke to the swimmers, triathletes, rowers and track and field stars, each and every one of our athletes have to be extremely proud of their achievements in Rio. And, as our medal count increased over the 17 days of competition, from first-hand experience, it definitely instilled the rest of us with an added sense of belief.


Tuesday, 16 August

"Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark, professionals built the Titanic.”

I decided to enter the Women’s Kayak Single 200m event as a warm-up in order to get used to the starting blocks and calm the nerves, because I’ve been feeling a bit stressed about the bumpy conditions. I didn’t know what to expect from the 200m, as I’ve always struggled to be fast enough out of the starting blocks, so I was a ball of nerves when I awoke yesterday.

I packed my clothes and food the night before so I was organised, but I seemed to be quite stressed warming up for my heat. It was once again a sunny day out at Lagoa Lake and I was up in lane eight of heat four. At first, I errantly paddled into lane nine, which isn’t used at Olympic level, so got called across. I then noticed a bird relieving itself above me to the left with less than a minute before the start of my race, but thankfully it didn’t land on my head!

My heat started in great fashion and I was pleased with a third-place finish. Less than an hour later, I had to be back on the water for the first semifinal. While I didn’t have much rest time, I was more relaxed than before and enjoyed a strong last 100m to power into third place.

Originally, I hadn’t even planned to race this event, so all of a sudden hoping for one of the two fastest third-place finishes to advance to the A-final was crazy. I was a little bleak when I realised that I was the third fastest. I wish we had nine lanes at the Olympics, like at World Championship level, because my semifinal performance would then have secured me an A-final, which I haven’t achieved in a 200m event for a few years.

However, I’m happy with my races thus far, and will compete in the B-final today at 2.40 pm SA time.

It will assist in preparing me for my favourite event, the Kayak Single 500m, which takes place on Wednesday and Thursday. The choice to race the 200m event has been a great confidence booster for me. I’m extremely upbeat and excited for the next few days of racing even though I know the nerves will come back each morning.

I’ve been doing many training sessions with my coach in order to improve my first half of the race, but still keep the finish strong. I often thought I always failed in training in the very short distances like 50 to 100m.

In terms of treatment and recovery, I race most of the time without a travelling physiotherapist for competitions and use a foam roller and a peanut for self-massage. It’s amazing to have so much medical support at the Olympics, and I’m grateful for the aided recovery between race days.

It has been great to return to the Village for highly beneficial physiotherapy and chiropractic sessions. I seemed to have had many areas on my body preventing my muscles from working, but since I’ve been ‘panelbeated’ it’s all systems go.


Sunday, 14 August

I needed a break from the Olympic Village because it’s a beehive of activity, so yesterday I enjoyed the day out at the Lagoa Lake where I will be competing from next Wednesday.

I have come to the realisation that I really am a water baby because, when driving to the course in the Lagoa district and upon reaching the cliffs along the sea, I was overcome with a prevailing sense of excitement.

After a worthwhile physiotherapy session was completed and a delayed start from the course, I was most definitely happiest when I finally took to the water in my kayak for my training session. The sun was out in force and I was in my absolute element. I managed to get a really good view of Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue from the water and soaked up the lovely warm weather during my practice session.

In spite of the bumps and waves that I encountered yesterday, I really enjoyed the challenge of feeling how I should move through the water and the waves. And I found myself almost imagining that my skinny kayak should be a surf ski, and there would be no problems at all.

After the productive training session, we took advantage of the warm weather and enjoyed a tasty lunch at a local restaurant near Copacabana beach. It was exhilarating to spend a day out at Lagoa Lake and the Copacabana beach promenade, and will live long in the memory.

The atmosphere was really vibrant, as all the spectators from the morning’s rowing events were still sporting their different countries’ outfits and waving their national flags. We then passed by a number of countries’ hospitality houses like Netherlands, Canada and Germany, and on the beachfront a big stage had seemingly been erected to accommodate a live band.

I am always either training or racing so I experience the serious part of the event, but I can imagine why the Olympics is such a draw card for spectators from around the world. It’s a thrilling atmosphere to be a part of and spectators have so many exciting things to do and see in the host city.

The Games are most definitely worth attending if you are a fan of many different sporting codes. It’s well worth every cent to witness the joy and elation of athletes from all over the world doing what they love so much at the highest level of competition.

I’m really starting to get excited to line up for South Africa against the best in the world.


Saturday, 13 August

“If you live your life with regrets of yesterday and the worries of tomorrow, you will have no today to be thankful for.”

I was introduced to the busy streets of Sao Paulo, with seven-lane highways, so I imagined Rio de Janeiro to have less traffic. However, that was certainly not the case upon my arrival.

The trip from the airport in the bus saw us encounter plenty of traffic and my arrival in the Olympic village was later than expected. It was a mission to get there and I arrived when it was starting to get dark in the village. I was left dumping my bags and trying to find some food after missing lunch due to the delayed travel time in the bus.

The Village is a constant buzz of activity. I can’t imagine how many athletes will eventually pass through the dining hall, which is bigger than a rugby field. I was a little overwhelmed by the food options and ended up serving almost nothing on my plate, so I needed some snacks later before bed.

The main road through the Olympic Village has flagpoles from all the competing nations displayed, and running parallel to that are huge 18-story high apartment blocks filled with athletes from all different countries, with their flags hung outside the walls and windows.

I headed for a workout and the gym was the busiest I have ever encountered it in my time as an Olympian, with the treadmills all in use. When I left, I found that the streets mirrored the hustle and bustle of the gym. They are occupied with runners, walkers and pedestrians.

Samsung, as one of the official Olympic sponsors, has handed out a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge cellphone, complete with a 3D headset to all of us athletes. I jumped for joy when I received mine. I can’t wait to start taking some awesome photos with my new phone and sharing them with you.

This is a great campaign by Samsung to connect the world to the Olympic experience. And one of the coolest things I have done so far has been to take a virtual roller coaster ride on chairs that move as if it’s real, and the pictures through the 3D headset are incredible. It’s completely lifelike l in terms of feeling and images. I must have looked funny pulling faces, as if I was really dropping vertically on a roller coaster ride.

I held my chair as if I really had to and finished having built up a small sweat. We then stayed behind to witness some Sevens rugby players do the same. I laughed so much because the big rugby players held onto their chairs, with their faces crinkling with fright, as if they were about to fall.

Day one of paddling most definitely started out as a challenge, with the prevailing rain and wind meaning that it was a very bumpy course on which to paddle. However, I know that it is part and parcel of the learning process and my preparation. And it may be to my benefit because I could encounter the same conditions on race day.

The Lagoa Lake is quite large, and is near the iconic Copacabana beach. I must admit that I prefer it out near the lake, as the hive of activity in the village, with so many athletes, is a little overwhelming at times.

I’m fortunate to have my dad visiting and I have a short amount of time to show him around the Village and the course. He will be watching my races here in Rio, which will be special.


Tuesday, 9 August

“Sometimes you have to forget what’s gone, appreciate what remains, and look forward to what’s coming next.”

The Rio Olympics is now well under way and I feel extremely blessed to be competing for South Africa at this level for the third time. It’s amazing to know that Team South Africa is already on the medals table, and I have been inspired watching my compatriots compete.

I’m limited to who I can watch though, as the local TV channels here are biased towards the Brazilian athletes competing and winning medals, but who wouldn’t be as a host nation?

It was an amazing experience to witness the Olympics torch relay pass through Sao Paulo in real life late last month, but it has become even more real for me, as I can now count the days left of my training camp in Sau Paulo on one hand. I am one week away from one of the biggest competitions of my professional career and it’s incredibly exciting to know that it’s almost my turn to race.

However, at the same time, it’s a scary thought as to what I can expect from these Games. I’m aware that I should be so confident within myself, but I often wonder how many athletes wake up every day and are sure of the results they can achieve.

I’m someone who always questions the process and my mind turns like a hamster on a wheel. I constantly find myself analysing whether my training sessions are productive enough, if my boat glides how it should or if the way my body moves in the boat is efficient enough in order to propel the boat using the best technique I possibly can. And, I find myself questioning whether my technique is looking like all the other top female paddlers and if my boat is moving like they make theirs move.

Yesterday, my mind was extremely busy again and I woke up feeling as though my final few sessions at the University of Sao Paulo all have to be perfect before arriving at the Olympic Village later this week. I managed to get one good session in, but the other session felt just like I was dragging a fish behind my boat!

While sprint paddling can at times prove a lonely sport, the support from people all over the world, and especially back home in South Africa, has already been incredible. I honestly don’t remember getting as many messages and “good luck” wishes before the 2012 London Olympics.

It’s wonderful to know that although I’m competing alone in my boat, I am most certainly not alone in making it move from the start to the finish line. There will be many people shouting their hearts out aiming for the same goal that I want to achieve in Brazil.

My experience from Rio starts on 11 August when I leave my training camp for the last few days before racing on 17 and 18 August. Be sure to check back on supersport.com.


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